ACFN Business Group


On the outskirts of Fort McMurray in the TaigaNova Eco-Industrial Park, construction workers are in the midst of an impressive 44,000 square foot office complex with an adjacent 21,000 square foot maintenance facility that will soon be home to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Business Group (ACFN Business Group).

The complex will have a sizeable presence in the 131-acre park, located seven kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alta., and represents the success and growth of ACFN Business Group, the umbrella organization for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation business ventures. The group employs over 1,400 First Nations and non-First Nations employees across 17 wholly-owned businesses and joint ventures, the administration of which will soon be housed under one (gigantic) roof.

ACFN Business Group was formed to support and create gainful and meaningful employment for the members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation by establishing effective and profitable businesses. Denesoline Environment, Denesoline Janitorial, Denesoline Maintenance Services, Chip Manufacturing, Tech Sonic Services, ACE Industrial Services and AC&T are examples of the companies that serve clients in the Wood Buffalo Region through a team of expert employees who deliver quality contracting services in a variety of challenging environments.

A partner in the oil sands industry

Since the mid-1990s, ACFN Business Group has succeeded in fulfilling this mission by focusing on providing the highest standard in support services to the thriving Alberta Oil Sands. Whether out of obligation to social responsibility mandates or the prescience to work with groups closest to the oil sands, there is not a single major company in the oil sands that does not partner with First Nations groups. While that may have opened a door or two at the onset of the working relationship, it is a dedication to executing the highest operating standards that has made ACFN Business Group regarded as an equal partner.

Alberta’s oil sands now produce 1.5 million barrels a day, but are projected to produce 3.3 million barrels a day by 2019. This economic boom requires expertise in fields ranging from waste management, maintenance services, steel fabrication and installation, road building and earth works, surveying, and engineering.

ACFN Business Group is a tremendous example of a First Nations group working in mutually beneficial relationships with large corporations. Its 17 companies fulfil the needs of oil producers on each major oil sands facility or construction venture.

The unique operating strategy gives all stakeholders a visible profile and added credibility throughout the region. Direct benefits are returned to the community and the First Nation.

“In terms of negotiating with the oil industry companies that are seeking sanction from First Nation groups in northeast Alberta, bilateral socio- and economic agreements are developed to include conditions for employment and contractual obligations for the benefit of the First Nations,” says Vice-President and CEO, Garry Flett. “Early on, Syncrude’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives presented a starting point for Aboriginal groups such as ours to develop sustainable businesses. However, we have to consistently provide reliable and efficient services to keep them coming back.”

“We have worked very hard to develop our businesses into professional organizations,” says Bryn Botham, Vice-President and CFO. “In order to develop a consistent branding across all our ventures, and provide a strong local presence in the oil sands, we are investing in what will be a Gold LEED certified office complex and an ISO-14001 certified maintenance service facility in the Fort McMurray, TaigaNova Eco-Industrial Park.”

ACFN Business Group is looked to as a model for effective First Nations economic initiatives and the potential they bring to Aboriginal communities, the private sector and the larger national economy. As such, it is an example of how industry partnerships can have a prolonged positive impact in First Nations communities.